By Sheri Baer
The Hoffman Agency, San Jose
All right, here’s my confession: I never intended to go into PR.
In a previous lifetime, I was deeply entrenched on the media side, first in local TV news and then in syndicated news inserts and cable programming.
It was a great ride, for sure. Whether it was a front-row view of a volcanic eruption or a helicopter jaunt to a glacier in the Swiss Alps, I had my share of “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this!” moments. However, at the end of the day (or 13 years to be exact), I encountered another experience common to the media side: the pink slip.
At that point in my life, my priorities had shifted (read: I now had a family), and late nights, weekend shifts and travel were no longer a fit. I launched into a series of informational interviews to figure out what else I could do with my broadcast skills.
Contacts forwarded my resume here and there, and I came home one day to a message: “This is Lou Hoffman. I’d like to talk to you about starting a broadcast PR practice at The Hoffman Agency.”
Lou’s offer intrigued me, and I decided it was worth a conversation. He was persuasive, and in 1998, I made the official leap. You do the math, but a few (ahem!) years later, here I am, still working in PR, albeit through a broadcast filter. So, it seems like as good a time as any to share a few observations from both sides of the story.
TV is ALL About the Visuals
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it bears repeating. Good visuals make the news. Nothing underscores this better than my former station’s regular coverage of world-record attempts at domino toppling. (I think we can all agree there’s no news value there.)
Turning to the PR side, I repeat, good visuals make the news. Technology companies often dismiss broadcast because they don’t think they can deliver the goods. If you think like a reporter, you’ll be surprised by the hidden gems you can find – even simple things like squiggly, colorful lines on an engineer’s computer screen or work stations cluttered with pieces and parts. If you can offer up a few bright shiny objects, that may be enough to satisfy.
An Interview is NOT a Test
I can’t emphasize this enough. As a general assignment TV news reporter, I was thrown into unfamiliar territory every day. The point is: I didn’t always know the right questions to ask. Instead, I counted on hearing something interesting that would lead me to the real heart of the story.
Translated to the PR side, more often than not, spokespeople who take the test (i.e., answer every question literally), will frequently flunk the interview. Regardless of the questions, their job is to tell a compelling story with context and color – even if that means going rogue during “the exam.”
Is There Anything I Missed?
I refer to this as the golden opportunity. It’s that lovely, open-ended softball question that rolls out at the end of almost every interview. Ever fearful that I didn’t ask the right questions, this was my safety net. And more often than not, the answer to this final query ended up on the air.
In my early PR days, I remember watching a client interpret this question as a signal the interview was over. Flushed with relief, he simply responded, “No.” Holy Moly! This is the moment to drive home that takeaway, the one thing you want the reporter (and viewers) to remember. Don’t squander it.
Don’t Be a Mosquito
Remember when I said I never intended to go into PR? That’s because I used to think PR folks were like mosquitoes – swarming, irritating pests doing anything they could to get my attention. I realize now that I worked with plenty of good PR pros, but in my head, I didn’t label them as PR – I thought of them as sources. These were the people who helped me out, called with interesting leads and, yes, got to know me.
Not being a mosquito has been a driving motivation on the PR side for me. I now realize it can be tough at times, especially when the pressure is on. But I truly believe the best PR professionals (accidental or not) find a way to deliver as valuable news sources. And that makes all the difference in the world for our clients.